With turmoil all around and COVID-19 on the rise again, beloved songsmith, Ben Kweller, sticks his guitar neck out to comment on a growing divide he sees in the US. “American Cigarettes” is a metaphoric tale of one person yearning to keep an old love alive while the other is ready to walk out the door.
“It doesn’t take long,” Kweller says, “Flipping through the TV or social media, to realize that this is us right now as a country – we’ve been brought to our knees by a dual pandemic. Innocent people are dying each day from a micro bug called COVID and being brutalized by a macro bug called RACISM. With so much at stake, how can it be that we seem to have zero things in common? Instead of focusing on solutions that heal, we shout at each other and claim bad faith. How do we survive when two of our country’s most basic promises – safety and equality – have become politicized into us versus them?”
Kweller sees a false binary forming in the culture. He encourages a third path forward at a time when different forces seem to push us into one camp or the other.
“On one side they say, ‘Preserve everything without change!’. On the other side they say, ‘Destroy everything and start over!’. I object to these choices and see a third path. Not because I’m an artist who dislikes being pigeonholed, but because I think our society has more depth and nuance than just two checkboxes of life and death, black and white, all or nothing. We need to stand up and call out health risks where they exist. We need to stand up and call out racism where it exists. Those are facts that ninety nine point nine percent of us can get behind. Now we just need to join together and do the work.”
The chorus in “American Cigarettes” is as catchy as you’d expect from a BK track. The song’s protagonist says ‘I know that loving me is a slippery slope, but loving you is my only hope, hold on tight if you can, baby I know that you can.’ Kweller points out the symbiotic relationship between all people, and like many artists before him, he hopes that one day something will pull both sides together. Releasing this infectious roots-rock jam one day before our nation’s 244th birthday was intentional because the artist cites music as one of our last common threads.
“Coming together is the third path, and to me it’s the only path. The truth is, we’ve always needed each other but now we need each other MORE THAN EVER. Even with all of America’s imperfections, we still experience moments of commonality and sameness. Unfortunately, it seems like those moments are less and less. With the fourth of July coming up and so many of us in tears and feeling lost, I have to express myself the best way I know how, because I truly think that music might be one of the last connectors we have left.”
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